“In other news this morning, Pan Pacific Defense Corps Marshal Hercules Hansen and his son, Ranger Chuck Hansen – seen here in this video wearing their dress uniforms – attended the funeral of Scott Hansen, who died earlier this week from a stroke related to his abuse of the illegal drug, kaiju blue fever. The disgraced former jaeger pilot was serving life in prison for murder and drug charges. He was forty-five,” the news anchor said in faux concerned tones. “Scott piloted the Mark-3 jaeger, Lucky Seven, with his older brother Hercules Hansen from 2018 to 2021. Lucky Seven is credited with three confirmed kaiju kills. In 2021, Scott was dismissed from the PPDC service and found guilty by a PPDC court martial for the murder of a young prostitute, distribution of illegal substances, and piloting while under the influence of unauthorized medical substances. In a press release, Marshal Hansen stated that his brother fought with demons and can now be at peace. Confronted by paparazzi as they left the cemetery in Sydney, Ranger Hansen echoed his father’s words and had no other comments.”
“Fucking paparazzi,” Chuck swore as he climbed into the limo, grateful that it was just his father and the security team. “I’d like to –”
Herc just looked at him, grief and regret filling the ghost drift between them, and Chuck finished with, “– just once, have the last fucking word.”
Dryly, his father noted, “You do, most days.”
Chuck let out a heavy breath. It felt as though he’d been grieving for his uncle for years, so why did it still feel raw? Damned unfair, he thought, and wished Raleigh and Richie had been able to come with them. Raleigh was sick and wasn’t in any shape to travel. Richie had been obligated to stay home as well, as both of the jaegers were in the process of getting much-needed repairs completed, necessitating oversight of the jaeger crews.
“Should’ve just let the prison cremate that loser like they were going to,” Chuck complained.
“And you would’ve demanded proof,” Herc said, grief making his tone harsher than normal. “Look, we both know Scott fucked up and how, but he was still my brother and my copilot for a while. We killed kaiju while you were still dreaming of being in the conn-pod.”
Chuck looked at his father, seeing the tears rolling down his cheeks and decided that just because he wanted to vent his anger, now wasn’t the time. He wasn’t sure if he’d ever stop being angry with Scott, but something – maybe from the ghost drift, maybe it was the memory of being eight years old and getting a hug from his uncle when he needed one – made his anger collapse like a house of cards. He tried fighting the emotion, but his breath hitched anyway, and he started crying openly. For a moment, both he and his father fought the urge to go to each other for comfort. “Just get over here, old man,” Chuck said crossly. Though they were more at ease with each other since the Breach had been closed, physical contact still didn’t come easily.
Herc slid across the limo and pulled an unresisting Chuck into his arms while the two security guards riding with them pointedly did not look at them. The ride to the airport was silent except for the sound of their grief. Once parked, the limo driver passed the message back to their security team that they were at their destination.
“Marshal, we’re at the airport,” the leader of the security team announced at a moment he thought was appropriate, several minutes after their arrival.
Herc drew in a deep breath as Chuck pulled back and tried to straighten his shirt. Someone passed a box of facial tissue and a small plastic bag to them and they spent a few minutes wiping their eyes and blowing their noses before disposing the used tissue in the plastic bag. “You ready?” Herc asked.
“Ready to run for it,” Chuck said bluntly, certain the paparazzi had followed them.
Their security team hustled them out of the limo. Much to their relief, the paparazzi had followed the decoy vehicle, and the Hansens were soon aboard the jumphawk along with their security team and headed back to Hong Kong.
“You, uh, okay?” Herc asked as the jumphawk leveled out to cruising altitude.
Chuck lifted his head slightly. “Shouldn’t I be asking you that?”
Herc half-shrugged. “Give me a few days.” He sighed heavily, eyes welling with unshed tears, and it made Chuck abruptly mad.
“What, you can’t cry in front of me over him like you were a few minutes ago?” Chuck dared to push.
Herc glared at him. “You never made a secret of how you felt about him.”
“Yeah and I’m still sitting here, feeling like I need to punch something or cry or both,” Chuck shot back. “He was a good guy once upon a time. If he’d learned to fill that hole inside of him with something that wasn’t drugs or alcohol or sex, maybe you two would still be kicking ass in Lucky Seven and they’d have paired me up with Raleigh or someone else in Striker.”
At those words, Herc blinked once, and Chuck moved out of his seat to hold his father, feeling his grief cascade through their ghost drift like a tidal wave. For once, Chuck didn’t care who saw them or that Herc’s shuddering tears were soaking through his shirt. Some small part of him knew that he’d harbored a tiny hope that his uncle would pull his shit together someday and walk out of prison a changed man for the better, but that had been a little boy’s sun-washed dream.
He felt a hand touch his shoulder and he looked up to see that one of their security guards was trying to hand him a box of facial tissue. Breathing deep, Chuck willed calm into himself before taking the box with a nod of gratitude, then passing it wordlessly to his father, who took a few tissues and deliberately tried to compose himself.
“I’ll be fine,” Herc managed. “Just…give me some time?”
Chuck nodded and, after taking a few tissues for himself, reclaimed his seat. Pointedly, he looked away from his father as he wiped his tears and blew his nose before he busied himself with his tablet, wanting to be the strong one for his father as Herc had so often been for him.